Standing by the well-worn
canvas bag on second base,
waiting for the visiting team’s
player at home plate to take his
first swing of the new inning,
Craig makes a decision. He
knows that stress is messing up
his game, so he decides to do
something about all this stress.
With the solid, unflagging determination of a Hawkson, Craig
vows that by the time the big
game with Central High arrives,
he is going to relax and swing
like a pro.
Stress and hormones
That evening after dinner, Craig asks his mother, who is a physician, if
he can talk to her. They go to her study, and he asks her to tell him about
stress and how to reduce it. He knows that he is in for a scientific lecture
because, in his mother’s world, it is all about education. But he decides
to endure her lecture because he needs all the help he can get.
His mother explains that stress is the activation of a cascade of hormones in the body, beginning with a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, moving on to a gland in the brain called the pituitary gland,
and ending up with the secretion of a hormone, known as cortisol, from
the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys (Fig. 1).
WEST HIGH SCHOOL SECOND BASEMAN CRAIG HAWKSON
knows as soon as he swings
his bat that it’s going to be a
strike. The ball lands in the
catcher’s mitt and Craig turns
and heads ingloriously back to
the dugout. He runs the implications through his mind: It’s
the third strike, which makes
it the third out, which means
the men on second and third
won’t score, which means his
team won’t retake the lead in
But Craig’s mind is even more occupied with thoughts of the really big
game with Central High, which is coming up in three weeks, when a talent scout from the state university will watch him play. If he doesn’t hit
the ball—and hit solid balls that get him on base each time at bat—he
can kiss his college scholarship goodbye.
Craig shuffles into the dugout and grabs his mitt, ready to trot out and
take his defensive position at second base. The coach comes up to him.
“Focus, Craig. Remember to focus. You can hit those pitches. You
want to get your swing back by the big game.”
“What’s been getting in your way?”
“I don’t know. I just need more practice, I guess.”
“OK. Now get out there and play ball.”
Craig runs out to second base. He does know what is getting in the
way—he’s just been too stressed out to play well. He’s feeling overwhelmed with his heavy load of high school honors and Advanced
Placement classes, his part-time work schedule at a hardware store,
his baseball schedule, and, on top of all that, performimg ongoing fix-it projects on his aging 1993 Chevrolet Camaro. The stress is playing
havoc with his concentration, with his energy level—even, he thinks,
with his coordination when he swings his bat.
Figure 1. Stress hormones are produced
by two parts of the brain, called the
hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, and
by adrenal glands, which are present on
top of the kidneys. T H I N